30 December 2019

An open letter to the GST and Ashley's governors

Ashley school gates. And some bins.
This letter was sent yesterday as an email to the Good Shepherd Trust and Ashley School's Local Governing Committee (the LGC aka the governors). I will obviously publish any response.

"Hi all

I hope you are well and enjoying the Christmas period.

I am writing this as an open letter, and I would be grateful for a timely response for publication.

I am an Ashley parent and journalist. I have put together a website detailing what has been happening at Ashley School over the last few months. Please do have a look: https://www.educationaccountability.org/p/start-here.html 

One of the most frustrating things about this whole process has been not knowing the allegations the GST made against Richard Dunne.

Obviously I have asked Mr Dunne to share this information, but so far he hasn’t. I suspect this is on the advice of his lawyers - who I presume are preparing some sort of legal action against the GST. 

I suggest that if you want to win over the parents who seem to have lost confidence in the GST/LGC, you publish what you had on Richard Dunne and the findings of any investigation that was carried out. I think in the past you have implied this can’t be done out of a duty of confidentiality to Mr Dunne. Why not ask him if he minds? He’s already said he rejects the allegations and has nothing to hide. 

Publishing hard information is a more effective way of winning people over than the rather insidious nudge-nudge campaign that appears to be going on at the moment.

If the best the GST have is that unsigned declaration of interest form which Mr Stapleton kindly pointed us towards in his end of term circular, I can understand why you might prefer to keep the rest confidential. 

If the other charges are stronger than the alleged catering racket, it would be really helpful if the parents could see them. Then we can all move on to the next stage.

Trusting the GST/LGC

Aside from the facts of the allegations themselves, a key concern is that in his resignation letter to parents, staff and children, Richard Dunne said he had resigned partly because he thought he would not get a fair hearing. This is worrying as it suggests he had lost faith in the GST as an employer, which in turn suggests his relationship with the GST/LGC had deteriorated considerably before he was presented with this mystery list of allegations and sent home.

I personally don’t feel inclined to trust the GST/LGC, partly because you have to question the competence of an organisation which manages to lose a much-loved head teacher, but also because whichever way you look at it, the initial statement that Mr Dunne was absent from school for reasons personal to him was misleading, at best.

The campaign you appear to be running at the moment - sending emails alleging the school has gone downhill over the last three years and alluding to the idea that Mr Dunne couldn’t really cope with the expansion to three form entry - seems to suggest you are quite glad to see the back of him.

It begs the question - have you been wanting him out for some time? Did you, perhaps, cook up a bunch of allegations with a view to getting rid of Mr Dunne?

I hope not.

Your perceived lack of respect for concerned parents

I would be grateful for some kind of rationale for the contempt you appear to hold for parents who have concerns about the LGC and GST.

On the evening of the 25 November, 340 parents, ex-parents and members of Ashley School staff attended a meeting at Esher RFC. A further 100 or so hands went up when I asked who had a partner who would also have attended were it not for childcare or work commitments.

At the end of that meeting we took one vote, and the vote was to approach the GST/LGC to discuss the possibility of setting up a parent council.

Two days later Ashley parent Andy Stocks sent a respectful email to the LGC asking how this might be explored. The eventual reply was dismissive: "We started work on the Parent partnership well before the parent meeting to which you refer in your e mail. Ours is an initiative being led by the senior leadership - as should be the case - with strong encouragement from the LGB. So it does, therefore, supersede what was discussed at the Esher Rugby Club meeting.”

This follows a pattern of governors belittling Ashley parents who have what they feel are legitimate concerns about the departure of Mr Dunne and the handling thereof by the LGC and the GST.

For example, take a look at the Chairman’s opening remarks in the LGC meeting on 21 Nov:

"The staff and the LGC observed that the social media activity and unhelpful behaviour and language was clearly restricted to a minority of current parents, who had been joined by some parents who no longer had children at the school.”

These comment attempts to paint the large number of parents with legitimate concerns as a few wingnuts bolstered by ex-parents who have no business getting involved.

The next sentence in the minutes I have already raised with Mr Stapleton because it is just weird:

"They [the staff and LGC] were pleased to have received so many supportive messages from other parents many of whom appear to have perceived, far better than some others, the reasons that are behind Mr Dunne’s resignation and which, for legal reasons, the GST are unable to disclose even to members of the LGC.”

This suggests that clever, perceptive parents have already worked out (somehow?) why Mr Dunne was absent and, having managed to perceive those reasons (which they presumably could not possibly know), had wholeheartedly swung behind the GST/LGC.

You can belittle and patronise as much as you like. You can try to pretend this is all on Mr Dunne for “choosing to resign". But it’s not a very good strategy, and I would advise a change of tack.

Independent inquiry

I would suggest commissioning someone authoritative and independent to look at how you managed to lose Mr Dunne, beginning with asking who was tasked to gather up the allegations against him, by whom and why. Allow that independent person to take statements from everyone at the trust, everyone on the LGC, every member of staff who wishes to contribute, Richard Dunne (and his family) and the Ashley parents and ex-parents and ex-pupils who wish to contribute. And then publish the investigation and its conclusions. Given what we heard from some speakers on 25 November about the attitude towards and treatment of Mr Dunne by certain LGC members, this needs to be properly and independently examined from all angles. 

We know the GST/LGC has all the power in the parent/school dynamic. We know you do not have to acknowledge our concerns, explain your actions or take us into account in anything you do. However I would suggest if you want to deal with this properly:

- don’t send oblique emails or circulars smearing or belittling Mr Dunne and his abilities.
- don’t try to dismiss the 309 people who signed the letter to the GST or the 340 people who turned up on a cold Monday night to Esher Rugby club to give a broken man two standing ovations.
- get Mr Dunne’s agreement to publish the allegations against him. He has lawyers now - get yours to talk to them and get an agreed statement out.
- ask someone independent to investigate and report on the GST/LGC's handling of the situation going back to whenever the first evidence-gathering exercise against Mr Dunne was discussed and commissioned.

I look forward to receiving your response, for publication, and I look forward to finding out more about the Ashley Parent Partnership next term.

Kind regards and the very best for 2020.

Nick Wallis"

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